Oilers’ failure to put Blue Jackets out of reach proves costly

COLUMBUS, Ohio — This was, alas, one of the weirdest “too many men” penalties you’re ever going to see. And punitive, as it would turn out.

Teams changed on the fly, but no one was “stealing”. It was a big change, except the Edmonton Oilers had the puck – so sending five guys over the boards as Duncan Keith stood patiently behind his net with the puck on his blade in a 2-2 game, was definitely not the plan.

Five new players from the Columbus Blue Jackets took to the ice, as did five Oilers, joining Keith.

Uh, wait a second…

“And after a good shift too. We were gaining some momentum,” added Oilers defenseman Tyson Barrie. “Yeah, that’s weird. I’ll have to go back and watch the tape to find out what we were doing there. Not ideal, that’s for sure.

The penalty, however innocuous, marked the turning point in a game that should have been shut down in the previous two periods by Edmonton. The Oilers entered the third period with a 2-1 lead, when it could easily have been 4-1 or 5-1.

But the Blue Jackets resisted, and resisted, then leveled the game with a difficult goal just 96 seconds from third. Then, in the eighth minute, Keith remained calm, patiently behind his net, as Edmonton looked to exert their will on a Blue Jackets team whose playoff aspirations had been dead for weeks and weeks.

“There was a bit of a push game between our striker and their D-man,” head coach Jay Woodcroft said of the suspicious change. “We stayed, and the person who jumped for that player didn’t realize he hadn’t come out.

“A mental error at an important moment in the match.”

In the ensuing power play, little Nick Blankenburg — an Okotoks Oilers grad playing in just his sixth NHL game since leaving the University of Michigan Wolverines earlier this month — sifted through a long wrist shot through a screen that gave Columbus a lead they wouldn’t give up in a 5-2 win.

And an Oilers team that has recently taken down Western powers like Colorado, Vegas, Dallas and Nashville has fallen prey to Columbus, two unnecessary points on the table – but perhaps inevitable after the good run this Oilers team has had. set up for anything but clinching second place in the Pacific.

“We haven’t capitalized, have we? said Zach Hyman, who like Brett Kulak, Kailer Yamamoto, Barrie and a few others failed to bury Grade A chances in the first 40 minutes which would have rendered the last 20 moot. “We had extended O-zone possessions, looked great… That’s exactly what happens, when you let a team stay, isn’t it? You bring them to life.

“As you get closer to the playoffs, those chances get harder and harder to come by,” Hyman recalled. “So you have to give it your all, and especially early on. Put them away early and take the life out of the game.”

Connor McDavid had two assists, reaching a new career high with 118 points (43 goals, 75 assists). Leon Draisaitl also hit the 55-goal mark for the first time in his career, with a power-play knockout from his desk.

But the big stage has been left for one of their three remaining games as Edmonton needs a win – or loss to the Los Angeles Kings – to clinch second place in the Pacific and the advantage of home ice in Round 1.

“At the end of the day, you have to be better,” said Barrie, who was less concerned with an awkward third period than with the 40 minutes leading up to it. “We had a lot of chances to score in the first two periods. We have to exploit our chances, be sharper and put them away when we have the chance.

“We were chasing him there at the end of the game when we probably could have avoided that.”

For a head coach who enjoys teaching, this lesson will require little instruction. It’s up to everyone, he said, to be more shrewd with their opportunities to avoid reckless losses like the one Edmonton suffered in Ohio on Sunday.

“On a personal level, we can be more specific in converting them,” Woodcroft said. “Their goalie played really well, and that’s the kind of goalie you’re going to see…in the playoffs. You have to find a way to be personally sharp, so you can maximize those opportunities. Because there won’t be as many in the playoffs.

Edmonton played without Darnell Nurse, who returned to Edmonton with a lower-body injury, and Jesse Puljujarvi, who stayed home sick. Of the six defensemen called up to replace Nurse’s 25 night time, only Barrie exceeded 20 minutes of ice time at 9:42 p.m. Of the other five defenders, only Kris Russell (16:53) played less than 18 minutes.

“Missing Nursey, he’s a big piece of this team,” Barrie said. “You don’t replace what he brings, and you saw all of our minutes go up tonight. I hope he won’t be gone that long.

Edmonton flew to Pittsburgh after the game, where they will practice Monday in preparation for Tuesday night’s conclusion of their 2021-22 road schedule, a game against the Penguins.

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